Thursday, August 9, 2007

Tohu va Bohu

Given that the universe is only six thousand years old, all that superstitious nonsense about millions and billions of years is just so much nonsensical superstition.


Oh, you believe all that? Oh. Well, uh, sorry. I didn't mean to insult your religion, stupid though it is. I mean, how anyone can believe that life just randomly "evolved" over millions and billions of years is beyond me. There wasn't any Dr. Frankenstein grafting together body parts, after all, and looking for lightning. But you just go ahead and believe that if you want to. Makes no difference to me.


You think I"m the one who's wrong? You think the "so-called Bible" as you put it is just a collection of tribal creation myths, some of which actually contradict each other, and most of which need to be drastically reinterpreted to make sense to a non-primitive mind?

My, that is a rather harsh assessment.

Oh, you think, say, the Noah flood myth is ridiculous on the face of it? How could the entire face of the globe be utterly covered with water? Haven't I ever heard of such a thing as a mountain range? Don't I know that Everest rises 29,028 feet above sea level? Don't I know that if the globe were utterly leveled and the continents inundated, the Ocean Sea would be less than a mile deep? Don't I see the problem with that? And haven't I ever heard of continental drift? Don't I know about the geologic column? Do I know what Precambrian strata are?

Well, first, I don't think your tone is entirely appropriate. Perhaps it's just a reaction to my saying your religion was stupid. I suppose I started it. Sorry. Let's start over.

No, the Bible nowhere states the age of the Earth. The "6000" years is derived from calculations involving the genealogies of the patriarchs. There is room for reasonable people to derive different results. We might even include "gaps". We might even suppose those gaps involve millennia, ages and eons. "In the Beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth... [and then there were some intervening millions or billions of years, during which, say, life evolved and comets struck the world] ...and the Earth was without form, and void." Certainly we might assume this. A fair-minded reading of this passage and a few others might certainly support such an interpretation. Another reading, using the same and additional biblical evidence, might tend toward a more literal reading, and one less willing to compromise with the geological innovations that started with Hutton and Lyell and moved through Darwin unto the present day. Every religion must have its prophets, and you with your snotty tone have taught me to show them all due respect.

No, the Bible certainly doesn't say that Noah gathered into an Ark all the species of the biosphere. Oh, you want to argue this point? You feel yourself competent to contend my assertion? You think that Gen 6:19 is clear? "And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every kind shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female."

Hm. So your argument hinges on the word "kind"? And you suppose you are competent in the Hebrew? Then you will know that this Hebrew word, min, is not identical to the modern taxonomic word "species." You will know that an analysis of its biblical usage indicates that it is used solely as a term for technical enumeration, and is never used in some other, more conversational way in scripture. It has the force but not the exact meaning of our species. Each term is an effort at systematic identification, but each system uses different criteria for making classifications.

How is this difference in terms significant? Well, per our system, there are many species, and genera and families of owl. But there is only one kind, one "min" of owl: the owl-kind. This is how we find owls referred to, as in Lev 11:17. But you must have known this. The upshot is that Noah did not take in every kind of owl, nor every species of rat or dog or horse. He dealt at the level of true breeding pairs. Donkeys and zebras and horses -- different species, same genus, Equus -- same kind. The same with elephants and mastodons and mammoths -- one kind. That's the level the old man would have had to deal with -- sometimes genus, sometimes family. Thus, the only member of the family Ochotonidae are the pikas; Tarsiidae has only the tarsiers, and Daubentoniidae has only the Aye-aye, of Madagascar.

The sole relevant criterion would have been the ability to produce fertile offspring, from which all modern species would have differentiated from the complexity of the pre-existing gene pool. But you must have known that, expert in Hebrew and in logic that you are. You would be capable of apprehending the distinction between differentiation and evolution. One uses existing genetic potentialities. The other assumes that information is alchemically created if you have enough time, and, uh, electricity or something.

But you still suppose that there are too many such kinds for all these old people to have cared for, on an Ark for a year? There must have been millions of families and genera over the course of evolutionary time? Well, as for the time span, let's just skip it. As for taxonomy, you will be aware that even when we factor in the fossil record, there are fewer than 20,000 genera of all animals, from worm to man, living or extinct. Of mammals there are a total of only about 1130 genera known (430 of them extinct) -- and there are, as you must know, 39 orders and 125 or so families, past and present.

But you insist that the number of reptiles and birds would vastly inflate the matter? Well, reptiles are indeed problematic. We will never know the true number of reptile genera, given the large number of extinctions that have ravaged this class. But of the 17 identified orders -- those of which we know, only 4 have survived: turtles, snakes and lizards, crocodilians, and the lone, beaked, tuatara. How are we to be fair in this matter? Well it seems like it would be fair to think of all turtles as just turtles, and all lizards as lizards. I mean, they sure look the same. Seems like the taxonomic level of order is the appropriate one, here -- the min. But that must be ignorant and biased. So how can we be fair?

Oh, I know. Let's just assume, simply for the sake of estimation, that the ratio of order to genus is the same for both mammals and reptiles. If this is the case, then we would guess that there have lived about 492 genera of reptiles (39 orders to 1130 genera of mammals = 17 orders to 492 genera of reptiles). Of course everyone knows that there were only about 350 kinds of dinosaurs. As for birds, there are 32 orders, 4 of which are extinct. Since the taxonomy of birds is as vague as that of reptiles, again using the ratio of mammal orders to genera, we get an estimated 927 genera of birds.

You're not confused by all this math. Cuz you're so smart and skeptical and well-informed. So you will be pleased to agree that we might be talking about something like 1130 known genera of mammals, and 492 supposed of reptiles, and 927 supposed of birds on the Ark -- for a total of one less than 2550 possible genera. Could 8 people care for something just over 5000 caged and organized animals, male and female — after many many years of careful preparation? Especially when we must consider that these pairs would have been juviniles? -- smaller, healthier, and subject to torpor or dormancy? But, again, perhaps this is too easy an answer.

Let's work at the species level. Just to be perverse.

We'll notch it up to 20,000 species. Let's make it forty thousand individuals that this supposed Noah had to care for. Ridiculous. They wouldn't even fit in any supposed Ark. Right? Well, contemporary sources count 4,000 mammalian species. Of these, there are perhaps 500 animals larger than sheep, 1200 between sheep and rats, and 2200 smaller than rats. Let's again assume that this pattern holds for the reptiles, although we know that many dinosaurs were actually only the size of birds. Birds need not be a concern, since they are characteristically small. So overall, the average size of land animals is about that of a cat. Fair enough?

The smallest estimation for the biblical Ark has a floor area of 101,250 sq. ft., with a volume of over 1,500,000 cubic feet. That is the equivalent of about 570 railroad stock cars (at a standard of 2,670 cu. ft. each). A standard double-deck stock car carries some 240 sheep. If we take sheep as the average size of 40,000 animals on the Ark -- although we know that the average is much smaller -- then all of them would have used some 167 of the available "cars" on the Ark -- about a third of the available space ... one of the three decks.

But the feeding and watering and cleaning must have been overwhelming. Right? Even if we assume that Noah had the intelligence that we have? Even if the tiers of cages in the Ark were fitted with automatic feeders and water dispensers, of a very simple gravity type, where a small portion is maintained from a large store above. Even if animal waste were to fall through grated floors, to be swept up on a regular schedule. Even if such simple machines as wheel barrows and shovels and brooms, and chutes and ramps and troughs, and any such labor-saving devices were employed. Even if we assume that the animals did then what they can do now -- estivate, hibernate, go dormant, go torpid.

It's all just too stupid to consider. Isn't it. We've inflated the number of animals by a factor of either 8 or about 60. We've made their average size 10 times larger than it is likely to have been. We can exclude the likelihood of any divine intervention, and also the natural adaptations that confined animals can make to their captivity, of dormancy. If we assume that the Ark was a survival factory -- well, that's just too stupid for words.

Why would God do such a thing? What possible purpose could there have been? What metaphor, what symbol, what type might have been fulfilled, through this elaborate arrangement? Why would every creature possessed of the breath of life be taken into the body of a great and all-sufficient craft, the work of a carpenter, that they might survive a fierce judgment that destroys an irredeemably corrupt world and every creature in it that does not enter in to its safety? Why? Why? It is a mystery. Unfathomable mystery. But wouldn't it be edifying if there were some consistent reason for it all? If there were some even greater and far more urgent and eternal verity, that this silly flood story pointed to?

The whole idea is ridiculous, though. I'm sorry. I've just been wasting your time. I might do for every other objection to this odd thesis what I have done with this objection -- about ice ages and continental drift and orogeny and red shifts and the Big Bang ... and, brr, Evolution ... in fact, I have done just that -- and we would still just know that the whole idea is impossible and ridiculous. It's just ridiculous.

I'm sorry. I've wasted your time. You know I can't be serious. Because we will not believe ridiculous and impossible things. Not even if they are true.



John said...

Scientists are convinced that creation is over ten billion years old not from religious belief but based upon all the mutually supporting physical evidence in the universe. Their conclusions are tested by making predictions which are validated by experiment or further observation of nature.

Living things don't evolve randomly, but in response to selective pressures due to environmental changes, from reproductive isolation or other natural causes. One source of the genetic variation in populations of organisms is from various kinds of mutations, some of which arise more or less randomly due to exposure to cosmic rays, mutagenic chemicals or other natural causes, but there are also lots of other sources of the genetic variation upon which evolution works.

Hutton, Lyell, Darwin & other geologists & biologists weren't prophets but scientists, making new discoveries based upon evidence & reason, just like their predecessors Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler & Newton.

Better Hebrew scholars than you or I translate "min" as "species", including those who recently completed a new English translation of the Bible for the US Council of Catholic Bishops.

In my opinion, Leviticus 11 & Deuteronomy 14 support this translation. Note that verses in these chapters list the domestic ox & goat along with the wild ox (aurochs) & goat (ibex), ancestral to their domesticated descendants. All members of the genus Capra are capable of producing fertile "hybrid" offspring, so might not be regarded as separate species.

The KJV translates Leviticus as naming three different kinds of owl, so if its rendering be accurate, then there is not a single "owl-kind". Some scholars translate one of these as "ostrich", I believe, but you might wish to check on this.

It could be that "min", as a non-technical folk classification, lies somewhere between the biological phylogenetic taxa "genus" & "species".

Greek translations of Genesis render "min" as "genos" & Latin as "genus", but those common speech words don't carry the same technical meaning as "genus" in modern biology. But if you're willing to envision rampant evolution at an unimaginable pace in the years after the Flood, go with genera on the Ark rather than species!

Or families, if you prefer. It wasn't orders, since there were both ravens & doves, members of the same order, on board, although Noah must have shipped a spare raven, since as an unclean animal, there should have been only two available rather than seven, but the scout raven didn't return. Maybe the ravens had already reared their young, the males of which then bred with their mom & sisters.

It is not true that all members of the genus Equus can produce fertile hybrids. Mules are very rarely fertile, almost never in fact; the same is true of horse-zebra & zebra-donkey crosses.

You are mistaken about the members of the Order Proboscidea you mention. They're not all in the same genus. African & Asian elephants belong to different genera, which, together with extinct mammoths, form the Family Elephantidae. Mastodons were in another proboscidean family altogether, which diverged from elephants over four million years ago.

You also have greatly underestimated the number of extant & extinct genera of ground & flying animals that would have needed rescuing from a global flood. Paleontologists find new extinct genera every year, as do biologists of living species & genera.

To take but two orders of Mesozic fauna, the best recent estimate of the total number of dinosaur genera is over 1800, of which less than a third have been discovered, based upon rigorous analysis & pruning of possible duplication. As you know, sauropod dinosaurs, of which dozens of genera have already been identified, with estimated hundreds yet to be found, were the largest land animals of all time. The biggest genera rivaled the blue whale in size & mass.

But there are many other genera of enormous terrestrial animals besides the 1800 dinosaurs. A conservative estimate would be several thousand from the Paleozoic (possibly tens of thousands), several thousand from the Mesozoic (possibly tens of thousands) & thousands from the Cenozoic (possibly ten thousand).

Your estimate of 2550 genera could be off by an order of magnitude, given the difficulties inherent in fossil formation & discovery.

It's easy to find references to recent scientific papers discussing these issues, simply by Googling.

It's unreasonable to expect hatchlings to survive, & with only two of each unclean animal, adults would be far preferred, in order to increase their odds of lasting through their confinement & in the grave, dangerous conditions of the post-Flood world.

Just 25 pairs or fewer of adolescent neosauropods would use up the entire 100,000 sq. ft. of Ark's floor space. I suppose you could cram some smaller animals in around them, but again at great risk to their survival.

This is quite aside from the inability of most marine species of fish & shellfish to have survived such an inundation as imagined in the mythical biblical Flood. Not to mention the plants, fungi, protists & microbes that also would have perished.

Also, as you must surely be aware, the survivors of the Flood would have had to undergo impossibly rapid evolution for large animals in order to diversify into the tens of millions of known & trillions more of unknown species in just the 4500 years or so since Noah's Flood.

During the same brief interval, over 99% of them would have had to go extinct as well! You'd think that someone would have noticed & written about the demise of so many creatures large & small every year in such a short period of time. Writing has been around for over 5000 years.

Then of course there are all the other problems of getting living things to the Ark, caring for, feeding & watering them during & after the voyage, keeping the carnivores from eating the herbivores, what the latter ate on their trips home, how non-swimming animals crosses oceans to other continents, let alone how flightless birds like the dodo got to their remote islands, inbreeding issues, how the Ark could even have been built without the iron bracing required for much smaller wooden ocean-going vessels in modern times, where all that water came from & where it went, etc.

By the way, much lower mountains aren't an option. Archaeologists have for instance found human remains & Bronze Age artifacts from the 3rd Millennium BC (4000-5000 years ago) under pyroclastic flows off Mt. Ararat itself.

You're I'm sure as familiar with these questions as I.

Then there's that rainbow...

Jack H said...

Your first fallacy is a vague appeal to authority. Most scientists, and all affiliated with mainstream secular institutions, share the belief that you state. You assert this is not a religious belief. I beg to differ. Anything that deals with the origin and meaning of life is religious. That it as primarily an atheistic religion is irrelevant. The question is, is it correct. This depends on evidence, not on assertion. Your reference to predictions and verifiability indicates that you respect scientific method. You have failed to refine your definitions, however. Since virtually all of the issues we’re dealing with here are unreproducible, and all experiments must deal with inferential conclusions, modesty is the most appropriate emotion with which we should advance our cases -- my silly and sarcastic tone notwithstanding.

You state the standard rational of Evolutionism well. The argument falls when we bring information theory into the picture. It’s a bootstraps situation. You assume startup conditions that are impossible in a naturalistic universe. That is, nature must somehow generally move toward greater and greater complexity. If information could be generated randomly, or simply because it was needed, than gamblers would never lose. For your scenario to work, you need a preexisting complex system, in which such terms as “selective pressures” and “environmental changes” might have meaning. The fallacy is, how did you ever break out of the nothingness, the lifelessness, the formlessness, the non-intelligence that randomness presupposes?

You presume genetic variation, without explaining genetics. You cite mutations, without explaining the high order of organization that mutations damage. We all agree that change within the system is possible. How did the system come to be? Microevolution will not do the trick. It has to be macroevolution, which is nothing other than alchemy -- one thing becoming another, of a higher order, via some power not of a higher order -- a change of the very nature of a thing, no mater how gradual the process is said to be.

The grand old men you cite had their virtues and their faults. Let’s see … ah here:

But that’s neither here nor there. A case is decided on its merit, not on the character of those who argue for it.

We shall not argue translations. I cite Gesenius, and leave interpretations to those who depend on them. But to suppose that the ancient Hebrews anticipated Linnaeus is rather a silly proposition.

It is naïve to suppose that by the time of Moses, distinctions would not have been made between various breeds, eg aurochs. My tools are packed away -- I hazard to be so bold as to say that the word MIN is not used in these passages. Your point is not supported by the awareness of breeds. I have said here that virtually all species are in fact breeds -- species, as I have somewhere pointed out, is a virtually meaningless taxonomic term, that depends, as its root implies, on appearance. Eg:

These are called breeds simply because they were bred -- if found in the wild, they would be called species.

You missed my point, in your owl example. There is a single owl-kind, from which many kinds of owls evolved. Yes, microevolved. As with oxen and goats and whatnot. The Greek and Latin are irrelevant, as you will know from μονογενή, only begotten.

I don’t imagine any Evolution after the Flood, or before it. I imagine quite a bit of differentiation and natural selection, but nothing magical -- just along the lines of what we might see in any isolated and stressed population -- as with Darwin’s finches, which, it turns out, evolve with the seasons -- a recent drought back-bred one species into a smaller-beaked variety. Rather embarrassing to Darwin, eh?

I make no dogmatic assertions regarding taxonomy. The labels are awkward, and the criteria is arbitrary. My working standard must always resort to the ability to produce fertile offspring. If you scan what I wrote here on that, you’ll see I am consistent. I’m very flexible. Point is, sometimes it will be our modern level of species, sometimes genus, sometimes family, sometimes order. I gave examples. In my longer work on this subject, from which I took much of this information, I give examples -- memory does not serve at the moment -- of seemingly distinct birds that are interfertile. This is interesting enough for me to think about looking up again. We’ll see.

The scout raven didn’t come back, but that doesn’t mean it died. It found a place to roost, ferial, and waited for its mate. Fair? One is aware of Equus infertility. But it is you who depend so greatly on mutations. This is an example of the true effect of mutation: lost information. Think about it.

I did not cite the order Proboscides, but the elephant kind. I did not say they were the same species. I made no reference to genera in this passage. It is meaningless to conflate the two systems. As for your assertion regarding geologic and Evolutionary time, I beg to differ.

As for my underestimation of genera, we’ll simply disagree. I am a practically-minded man, and prefer the concrete over assertions of faith. That paleontologists elect to inflate the number of genera in their system is as it may be. They will do so, generally, on the evidence of a few unique bones. You present the impression of someone not unfamiliar with how science is done. Do we establish firm rules on slight evidence? Well, actually, yes, we do. Should we? I think not. Consider the breeds of dogs, which are all dogs. Now imagine a paleontologist in epochs to come, assigning wienerdogs and great danes and terriers to different species or genera, depending on a tooth or a femur. You see my point.

Citing general of dinosaur is begging the question. I maintain that differentiation within breeding populations is not proper grounds for supposing membership in distinct categories. I can’t be any clearer than that. A label is not the same as reality. Africans and Asians and Europeans are all human, no matter what racists maintain, or once did. Get it? Jus as skin color or the texture of hair is a meaningless difference, so would the difference be that give us these endless sorts of dinosaur. Let the brontosaurus be a watchword. Ain’t no such animal.

Your supposition that hundreds of sauropods are yet to be found is an appeal to faith, and a begging of the question. You’ve seen my reasoning. Of course it is flawed, as I cheerfully aver. The principle I adhere to is to reason from the known to the unknown, rather than from an article of faith to another article of faith. We know a lot about living mammals. We know hardly anything about extinct classes. More and more, but that amounts to very little. Am I too rigorous? How could that be possible, what with me so arguing for something so obviously wrong.

As I said, no matter how large the largest land animals grew to, they started small. The old man could have dealt with lizards. As for the Paleozoic and Mezosoic and Cenozoic, I may post my work on this topic. My conclusion, simply asserted here, without the thousands of reference I make in the original, is that these epochs are fictions. I know, ridiculous -- I’m right and everyone else is wrong. Rather than be vague on the matter, I’ll be silent. But your estimates, too, could be off by orders of magnitude. I’ll agree if you will.

Re the reasonableness of hatchling survive, that’s a fun point. But no one said life on the Ark was a guarantee. We know there were endless extinctions. There certainly could have been extinctions on the ark. Too bad. That’s life. Your point that adults would be preferred is not meaningful. A biological adult in the animal kingdom can mere weeks and months old. And there is no reason to suppose that breeding did not occur on the Ark. It is unnecessary to suppose that the ark doors opened and all the creatures were turned out to fend for themselves. That all would have been domesticated at that point. Tended, that is. Fair? As for neosauropods, you’re assuming giantism. Why do that? I didn’t. We’re not talking King Kong – we’re talking princling Kong – you know, a baby. We do, after all, find dinosaur eggs. They are not the size of buicks. Watermelons. The chicks would be not much bigger. Play fair.

As for marine life, the extinction beds in which we find hundreds of millions of catastrophically killed fossils argues rather for exactly the conditions you find outlandish. Yes, sir, the Flood was exactly as calamitous as you suppose. Just as a comet strike would have been, yet life persisted. We agree.

We do not agree about impossibly rapid mutation/Evolution. There are no trillions of, uh, species? -- genera? I actually worked out the breeding rates of mammoths, in my, uh, Dragons in the Earth. The math does not embarrass my case. We do not need eons. We need mere centuries, for even Siberia to meet its quota. I may go to the great trouble of posting this. I had a computer catastrophe a few weeks ago, and it would be a real hassle. We’ll see.

You may be conflating the pre- and post-Flood worlds -- two different kettles of fish. My reconstruction of ancient history, the first five chapters of which actually are posted -- Most Ancient Days -- has it that writing has been around for some 4000 years … but no matter.

Did you read this little effort of mine carefully? I go through the care and feeding of Ark animals. As for diffusion, another question for another time. The rest of your objections are easily dealt with, but why bother. I’ve dealt with all these questions, and many many more. Ask me nicely, and I may take the trouble. Ah, the fountains of the deep. Oh, thou juvenile springs! How great a fortress, the inchoate waters! I did refer to orogeny in the body of this post. Your observation re Ararat is interesting, but certainly no embarrassment to my case.

As for the rainbow, oh, the story I could tell.


Jack H said...

Well I see a number of typos, but who could be bothered to correct them. I'm not as anal as all that. Relax, is what I say.

And somebody has sent me a link to a message board, where my little effort here is called "snide" and "snearing." Well. I can hardly deny it. Did you take it personally, John? That would be because you have insufficiently acquainted yourself with the ethos of this blog. And maybe because you think a tad too much of yourself? I will leave some other interpretation to your imagination. Insert snide response below.

Or can we just move past this? Let's talk about how handsome I am, instead.

On second thought, maybe I'm not ready for that. Cuz y'said I'm not only snide and sneering, but "ill informed." That's just hurtful. I await your apology.

And *you're* "ill informed." And fat.